Can India's new PM Narendra Modi keep voters happy?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 13, 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Narendra Modi led his Bharatiya Janata Party to a spectacular victory in the summer elections

India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a 10-year framework within which his governance record should be judged. But Mr Modi is going to be assessed throughout his tenure by voters, writes Delhi-based commentator Swapan Dasgupta.

In today's world where a premium is attached to urgency and punctuality, particularly by Mr Modi himself, there is an inclination to judge a politician's worth over a much shorter period - at best in the five years between one election and another.

All the more so because the most momentous event of 2014 in India - the general election that led to a major political change - was set to the tune of promised "achche din" (happy days).

This may have been the brainwave of a clever copywriter but, whether he likes it or not, Mr Modi is going to be assessed constantly in terms of his ability to bring a smile to the face of the voter.

Of course, the voter is not totally unreasonable.

The second half of 2014 was devoted entirely to fully understanding the man who won the election by running a presidential-style campaign.

To Mr Modi too, 2014 was a year spent in making himself understood - first as a candidate and subsequently as prime minister.

That phase is now in the past and, apart from the odd surprise, Indians have formed a view of their prime minister and moulded their expectations accordingly.

Euphoria and optimism

The stock markets are never a totally accurate expression of popular sentiment - and certainly not in a country where economic disparities are often very pronounced.

Yet, the euphoria and optimism that greeted the May 2014 verdict measure the lofty hopes pinned on Mr Modi. Large numbers of people have invested their money in the hope that the change in politics will usher an "achche" dawn.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Voters will be constantly assessing Mr Modi's performance

And 2015 will be measured by the extent of the progress towards that promise.

In plain language, the entire emphasis is likely to be on economic management. Mr Modi has lifted morale considerably and revived global interest in the potential of India.

In 2015, he has to oversee two crucial steps to translate potential into emerging reality.

First, he has to take the promise of improving the ease of doing business in India many steps forward.

A lot of investment is ready to move into India but the country is still a few steps away from pressing the start button, which are:

  • The final enactment of the goods and services tax (GST) that will establish the architecture of a national market
  • The removal of "socialist" impediments such as the Land Acquisition Act in the path of manufacturing
  • The creation of a predictable and stable tax regime that will be the defining tune of the 2015 budget.

In for a long haul?

Secondly, to satisfy the yearning of a people that is resentful of five lost years in former prime minister Manmohan Singh's second term, the government has to ensure that the private sector actually acts on its words and steps up its capital expenditure.

As chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, Mr Modi benefited incalculably when Tata Motors moved its Nano plant from West Bengal to Gujarat in 2008. That single act put the "Gujarat model" of development on the map of India.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption BJP victories in regional elections between October and December show that Mr Modi has been able to transfer his personal popularity to his party

One similar big-ticket decision will set the ball rolling for the Make in India initiative.

Thirdly, Mr Modi will have to demonstrate throughout 2015 that he still retains the political initiative.

The string of assembly election victories between October and December have demonstrated that he has been able to transfer much of his personal popularity to his party, the BJP.

If the same momentum is maintained in 2015, it will create the confidence that this government is in for a long haul and that India will not regress into political fractiousness and short-term coalition politics.

Economics and politics are completely intertwined and Mr Modi will have to maintain confidence levels in both spheres.

Finally, for a country that often measures happiness in terms of a riveting Bollywood release and cricket, it will help the larger "achche din" process immeasurably if India retains the 2015 Cricket World Cup.

That February euphoria will set the tone for the remaining 10 months.

Related Topics

More on this story